At only 21 years old, Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna becomes the first Arab artist to ever perform a full set in Arabic at one of the most popular festivals in the world.
Coachella welcomed Elyanna last Monday, where she performed several of her songs, including unreleased ones. Her performance has been praised by the Arab press, generating enthusiasm and pride in the Middle East and North Africa.
A Unique Performance
Since the festival began in 1999, only two Arab artists have been invited to perform at Coachella: Palestinian DJ Sama and Moroccan-American rapper French Montana. However, they didn't perform a full set in Arabic unlike Elyanna, a Palestinian-Chilean woman who grew up between Nazareth, Chili, and the U.S.
Dozens of Keffiey, a headdress worn by Arab people that symbolizes the Palestinian resistance, were spotted floating while the Palestinian woman was singing fully in Arabic. This remains an unprecedented moment in the festival's history.
What Does It Mean for Representation?
A few years ago, several families from the Middle East migrated to the United States to build a better future. Although oriental visuals have had a huge impact on American films and music—the most recent example being the movie Dune—only a few Arab American artists have made it to Hollywood.
This small number of artists is still very low, and the feeling of representation seems nonexistent among Arab Americans. According to the U.S. Census, 88% of them do not identify as white.
The first TV series centered around an Arab character made history four years ago with Ramy, a show entirely made of Arab actors.
This is explained by the fact that the Arab entity is denied in North America; no such thing as "MENA" (countries situated in and around the Middle East and North Africa) exists in the U.S. census.
Although those countries were always seen as outside of Western society, Arab people have always been expected to identify as white on the U.S. Census.
The reason behind this seems ideological. Recognizing that people coming from Palestine were not white would mean that Jesus was a person of color. This would go against centuries of fake representations of Jesus (represented by a white man with blue eyes, the account of Cesare Borgias).
Elyanna: A New Representation for Arab Girls
"I am so grateful to be singing in my language and bringing my culture, music, and dance to a festival like Coachella," said Elyanna to her fans on Instagram.
While the crowd was waving keffiyehs to show their pride, dozens of Arab women were spotted crying during Elyanna’s performance.
The singer, who combines traditional Palestinian instruments with elements of Arabian culture, reggaeton, and Latin American pop music, has brought something disruptive to this Coachella festival.
Elyanna has brought a new and fresh perception of Arab culture on a global level. She has paved the way for greater representation of Arab women in the United States.
Her artistry has received such acclaim that she is scheduled to perform for a second time at Coachella on April 22.
Edited by Adedamola Aregbesola
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